Malala Yousafzai, is a young Pakistani woman who converted the attention she received after being shot by the Taliban in 2012 into a global campaign for education and girls’ rights.
Malala’s early life
Born in 1997 in northwestern Pakistan into a Sunni Muslim family, Malala Yousafzai showed early signs of a campaigning instinct. At the age of 11 she began a heartfelt diary, written for the BBC (in Urdu), detailing the Taliban’s growing influence in her home district of Swat in northwestern Pakistan.
Writing under the pseudonym “Gul Makai” (“cornflower” in Urdu) she exposed the spread of violence and political unrest in the area, and her fears that the Taliban would deprive her and other girls of an education. In 2009, the Taliban decreed that no girl could attend school and all girls’ schools were closed.
Following a peace deal, girls were allowed to return to school and Malala and her father, also an education activist, were approached by a New York Times reporter about filming a documentary. After the documentary was made, Malala revealed her identity as the BBC blogger and began to appear on television to promote female education.
Death threats against Malala Yousafzai
Malala’s high profile led to constant death threats but she remained undeterred. On 9 October 2012 Malala was shot in the head on her school bus by a masked Taliban gunman. The life-threatening bullet was successfully removed but had caused damage to her brain. She was initially treated at a Pakistani military hospital but travelled to the UK for further treatment. By 17 October she was out of her coma and had an operation to reconstruct her skull the following February.
Her campaign for education
Malala has gained support and admiration from politicians, actors and musicians all over the world and has become a global symbol for girls’ rights to an education, both in Pakistan and elsewhere. On her sixteenth birthday in July 2013, Malala spoke at the UN in her first public speech since the attempt on her life. The ‘Malala Day’ event was attended by 500 young education advocates.
Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Hillary Clinton have all praised her bravery and dedication. In 2012, Gordon Brown launched the ‘I am Malala’ petition with the aim that “girls like Malala everywhere will soon be going to school”. Malala has met some of the world’s most powerful people including Barack Obama, the Queen and Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon.
‘I Am Malala’
Her memoir, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, was described as “fearless” by The Guardian and “riveting” by The Washington Post.
In October 2014, she shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. Many had expected her to win the prize in 2013, when it went instead to a group that campaigned against the use of chemical weapons.
Criticism of Malala Yousafzai
Malala, who turns eighteen in July, now lives in Birmingham where she is continuing her education at Edgbaston High School. In her native Pakistan she has faced criticism for “justifying Western imperialism” and has been accused by some of being a CIA spy.
Huma Yusuf, a columnist on Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest English-language newspaper, wrote that “the West’s admiration of her is hypocritical because it overlooks the plight of other innocent victims, like the casualties of US drone strikes”.
Malala Yousafzai quotes
“All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one.”
“I will get my education – if it is at home, school, or any place.”
“We are starving for education… it’s like a precious gift. It’s like a diamond.”
“I don’t want to be remembered as the girl who was shot. I want to be remembered as the girl who stood up.”
“One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.”
“I hope that one day when I’ll go back to Pakistan, I will build a university like Harvard.”